Monday, July 24, 2006

Graphic Lit: Mome

Before you read this week's column, check out this New York Times piece by Clive Thompson, who is quickly becoming my favorite video game journalist.

Comics anthologies are a tricky beast.

Although they traditionally offer a large sample of material from a wide variety of artists under one cover, they tend not to do too well sales-wise.

What’s more, even the most ambitious anthology can frequently fall prey to mediocrity due to awkward or sub-standard contributions.

So when Fantagraphics publicity director Eric Reynolds and publisher Gary Groth decided to launch "Mome," a new, quarterly anthology focusing on up-and-coming cartoonists, it would be an understatement to say they were being a wee bit ambitious.

Reynolds had been toying with the idea of starting a new anthology for a while when, in talking with Groth, he found out they had been mulling over the same notion.

The idea, according to Reynolds, was to "spotlight people who didn’t have a regular venue," giving artists like John Pham, David Heatley, Paul Hornschemeier and Sophie Crumb (daughter of famed cartoonist Robert Crumb) the chance to develop their work to see print more often.

"[Artists like] Sophie Crumb needed a place to grow. Basically, I just wanted to give her a place to foster her talents a little bit." Reynolds said.

The other major editorial decision was to focus less on experimental works, as anthologies such as "Kramer’s Ergot" and "Non" do to great acclaim, and instead put the emphasis on storytelling.

"Everyone in [Mome] should be focusing on narrative and storytelling. We didn’t want abstract work. It’s an accessible anthology for better or worse," Reynolds said.

"Pham and Heatley have surreal elements to their work, but it is in service of a coherent narrative. It’s not a purely abstract experiment."

"Mome’s" fourth volume just saw print and readily confirms Reynolds’ and Groth’s faith in their project. Although the series had a few missteps at first, this latest edition is full of strong material with some surprisingly winning work by Martin Cendreda and Pham. The showcase of the book, though, comes from French artist David B. ("Epileptic"). His "The Veiled Prophet" is a hallucinatory, mind-bending tale of a caliph battling a renegade cult leader.

The initial idea was to keep the contributor list small so that you would see the same faces each volume. That plan quickly fell by the wayside as maintaining such a rigorous schedule proved too difficult for some of the participants.

"If one or two have to skip an issue, you’ve got to fill in 20 pages," Reynolds said.

Hence, the David B. story. That worked to the book’s advantage, as the story from a more experienced author gives the series an authoritative center it previously lacked.

Upcoming editions will see work from such relative (but highly talented) unknowns as Tim Hensley, Sammy Harkham, T. Edward Bak and Zak Sally.

More significantly, the lauded French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim will contribute an autobiographical series in which he grapples with the onset of middle age.

Overall, Reynolds seems pretty happy about the direction "Mome" is heading.

"Jeffrey Brown and Sophie are doing some of the best things they’ve ever done," he said. "It’s all working out. I’m pretty stoked."

Other anthologies

"Hotwire Comix and Capers"
136 pages, $19.95.

Almost a 180-degree difference in tone from "Mome," this oversized book is full of edgy, at times disturbing and definitely in-your-face material that calls to mind the heady "new wave" comics of the 1980s. There’s a ton of stellar material here, though, from such folks as Michael Kupperman, Tony Millionaire, Mack White, R. Sikoryak and more, putting the signal to noise ratio at an impressively high level. Check it out.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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